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Full text of "Notes on the Old English "Christ" (320, 952)"

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334 Cook, [Vol. I 



NOTES ON THE OLD ENGLISH CHRIST 
(320, 952). 

CHRIST 317-325 contains a paraphrase of Ezek. 44. 2. 
The passage runs : 

Ic pe masg secgan past soft gewearS 

past Sas gyldnan gatu glet sume sipe 

God sylf wile, gSstes maegne, 

gefeelsian, Faeder aslmihtig, 

ond, purh pa faestan locu, foldan neosan 

ond hio ponne asfter him ece stondaS 

simle singales swa beclysed 

past nsenig oper, nympe Nergend God, 

hy asfre ma eft onluceft. 

Various commentators before the time of Cynewulf had 
interpreted the verse of Ezekiel to apply to the Virgin 
Mary. This view is represented by ^Elfric, Homilies I. 
194: "'pis geatne bis nanum menn geopenod, ac se Hlaford 
ana fasrS inn purh past geat, and eft ut faerS, and hit biS be- 
locen on ecnysse." past beclysede geat on Godes hiise 
getacnode pone halgan masigShad pasre eadigan Marian. Se 
Hlaford, ealra hlaforda Hlaford, past is Crist, becom on hire 
innoS, and fturh hi on menniscnysse wearti acenned, and past 
geat biS belocen on ecnysse ; past is, past Maria wass masden 
asr Sasre cenninge, and masden on Sasre cenninge, and masden 
asfter Satire cenninge.' 

The point to be here considered is the meaning to be 
assigned to v. 320, and this is dependent upon the interpre- 
tation of gefcelsian. Thorpe translates it by ' make pure ' ; 
Grein {Dichtungeti), by 'verherlichen"; Gollancz, by 'glorify' 
{Cynewulf' s Christ} and 'make resplendent' {Exeter Book). 



No. 3] Notes on the Old English Christ 335 

In the Sprachschatz, Grein assigns to gefcelsian. the meanings 
' lustrare, expiare, mundare, purificare, clarificare.' 

Professor Bright, of the Johns Hopkins University, in a 
communication to me, proposes to read gefcestnian for gefcel- 
sian. He says : ' Gefcestnian, taken with fcestan of the next 
line, reflects in a striking way the special emphasis of the 
original passage : " This gate shall be shut . . . therefore it 
shall be shut " ; cf . also 11. 25 1-2, which shows that the closed 
gates were particularly in mind.' These lines are : 

Ond fa gyldnan geatu, fe in geardagum 
fill longe air bilocen stodan. 

I propose to retain gefcelsian, and to translate it by ' pass 
through.' 

That Grein is correct in assigning to gefcelsian (and also to 
fcelsiari) the meaning ' lustrare ' is shown by a comparison 
with the Wright-Wiilcker Vocabularies, where (43828) we 
have : ' lustrans, faelsende.' This, however, does not deter- 
mine the meaning of fcelsende, since lustrare has various 
definitions. Of these, the commonest in the Vulgate is ' pass 
through,' ' go through.' Thus, too, in the Vocabularies (4343): 
' lustrata, geondhworfen,' and (438 39) : ' lustraturus, geondfer- 
ende.' Since it has been shown that the well-known Latin 
meaning of 'lustrare' as 'traverse,' 'pass through,' must 
have been familiar to OE. scholars through the Vulgate, and 
is unmistakably recognized in OE. itself; and since, as we 
have seen, fcelsian is used in OE. as an equivalent of 
lustrare, we need not hesitate to assign to the OE. verb in 
our line the meaning of ' traverse,' ' pass through,' if the 
context appears to demand it. 

That the context does demand it is, I think, evident : v. 
321 is the gloss on gefcelsian ; 't5as gyldnan gatu . . . God 
. . . wile . . . gef ailsian ' is thus corroborated, explained, and 
expanded by ')mrh fa faestan locu foldan neosan.' 

So far as action is concerned, there is no question any- 
where of the shutting of the gate ; the gate is conceived as 
already shut, and attention is directed to the passage through 
(cf. the 'faerS inn' and 'ut fa2rS' of jElfric). That this is true 



336 Cook, [Vol. I 

may be seen from the comment of Ambrose {Ep. I. 7): 'Quae 
est ilia porta sanctuarii, porta ilia exterior ad orientem, quae 
manet clansa, et nemo, inquit, pertransibit per earn, nisi solus 
Deus Israel? Nonne haec porta Maria est, per quam in hunc 
mundum Redemptor intravitf Professor Bright's proposed 
change to gefeestnian, so far from giving a better sense, would 
merely weaken the fcestau of the next line : the gate which 
has just been fastened has not, to the imagination, the same 
character of impermeability as that which has long been 
locked (cf. the 'ful longe aer' of v. 252, if that passage is to 
be connected with this). And why should the ' Father Al- 
mighty' fasten the gates in order that immediately, in the 
next line, he may pass through them ? This is neither 
Scripture nor poetry. 

Cynewulf, in describing the end of the world, mentions 
the voice of the celestial trumpet, and the winds that blow 
from seven quarters, rousing and devastating the world with 
tempest. These winds, then, according to the received text 
of the Christ (v. 952), 

fyllaft mid feore foldan gesceafte. 

Thorpe translates : 

With their breath shall fell the earth's creation. 

Grein translates (apparently after Ettmuller) : 

Und fallen all mit Feuer die Fluren dieser Erde. 

Gollancz renders {Christ) : 

O'erthrowing all creation with their breath ; 

{Exeter Book) : 

And with their breath o'erthrow the earth's creation. 

Ettmuller {Scopas and Boceras) emends feore to fyre. Grein, 
apparently accepting this in his Dichtungen (see above), 
afterwards interprets feore as the abl. 'vita' {Germania X. 
420), comparing v. 974 : 

Fylle<5 on foldwong fyres egsan. 



No. 3] Notes on the Old English Christ 337 

As against the rendering of Thorpe and Gollancz, 'breath,' 
it may be urged that, though feorli is of frequent occurrence 
in the poetry, this meaning is nowhere found. As against 
Ettmiiller's emendation, there is no suggestion of fire in this 
context, but only of wind, uproar, and tempest. As against 
Grein's later rendering, 'life,' the word has here no perti- 
nence ; do these winds fill the creatures of the earth with 
life ? A mere glance at the passage will show the absurdity 
of such a hypothesis. 

I would make the simplest sort of emendation, and read 
fere (Anglian for fare). This involves only the suppression 
of a single letter, which, owing to the relative frequency of 
feorh in this poem (feorh : fir : : 1 1 : 2 ; in all but one instance 
in an oblique case, and so without h), might easily have in- 
truded ; it is supported by the mid fire of 867 ; and in the 
latter passage it is again gesceafte, appositional with fold- 
buende, which is the object of the verb. If this is accepted, 
fylldS means, of course, ' fill.' 

As for the use of fir (fir) in the modern sense of ' fear,' 
we might compare the use of tremor in the Dies Ir<z : 

Quantus tremor est futurus 
Quando iudex est venturus, 
Cuncta stricte discussurus ! 

Tuba, mirum spargens sonum, etc. 

In the Christ (cf. 941 ff.), as in the Dies Irce, the coming of 
the Judge (JElmihtig, folca Weard), inspires terror, expressed 
by egsan firea, 946 ; in both the mention of the Lord, and of 
the effect of his appearance, is immediately followed by that 
of the trumpet. 

Albert S. Cook. 

Yale University.